Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | November 10, 2015

“The Decision”

We loved to play dress up for the fancy events.

We loved to play dress up for the fancy events.

As most of you know, Melody Gilbert and I took a one-year leave of absence from our duties at the American University in Bulgaria (AUBG). We needed time to pursue individual projects and to spend some time thinking about what we wanted to do next. We could go back to Bulgaria. Go somewhere else. Or stay in Chicago and regroup. We’ve come to a decision.

It wasn’t easy.

I’ll just spit it out. We’re going to stay in Chicago.

Some of you might be surprised. Probably more of you are nodding your heads and saying: “I knew it.”

To be honest, YOU might have been certain we were staying ā€“ but we weren’t. Here’s why:

First, there are the students. These are amazing young people from around the Balkans, to be sure, but also from quite a bit farther away. These young men and women opened our eyes to new worlds and filled our hearts with joy and wonder with their intellect, their curiosity, and their absolute fire to live a full life. Probably the hardest part about not going back is missing out on the journey from freshman to graduating senior that they undertake. It’s a really amazing privilege to play a small role in that trip. We are so honored to have been a part of that. We hold those memories in a special place. We won’t soon forget the amazing students we met along the way. We’ll look forward to them changing the world in all kinds of ways.

Then there are the friends we made in Bulgaria. There are so many we can’t possibly name them all. OK, I’ll try — but if I left you off, don’t be offended. I’m old and forgetful. Boriana, Stefan, Pavlin, Tracy, Bistra and Kate, Mark, Ina, Georgia and Cydney, Elena, Asli, Rossen and Desi, Len and Arta, John — oh, the Tuesday Club! Our great pals from JMC Lynnette (and Mark) and Dinka and Atanas. Sonia and Dimana. Svetlana and Nick. Sahar. And Laura, er, Lauren. Sveta. Sani. Sasho and Desi. Diego and Brani. Pierangelo. My biking buddy Bill. Tsenko and Elmira (and their daughters). Stoyan. Each of these people — and so many more, including the amazing and talented AUBG faculty, staff and administration — made our transition to and life in Bulgaria an amazing amazing amazing experience.

We are settling into life in Chicago. There are lots of unanswered questions about “what comes next” for us. I’m working as a freelance writer and editor right now. Melody is finishing two movies and starting a couple of others. We’re closer to family and U.S. friends, and most importantly, our daughter (who is only one time zone away in New York instead of eight).

There’s more to come. But this is enough for now. … It’s enough for me to say it was a great ride. And as with all things, we’ll keep moving forward. Please find us in Chicago so we can grab a beer and reminisce. As my students — and my friends — know, I’m always up for a beer.

One of the many group pictures with our amazing JMC students, 2014 I think.

One of the many group pictures with our amazing JMC students, 2014 I think.



  1. Dear Melody and Mark,

    I was really looking forward to going back to class in AUBG and seeing you there! I’m happy that you are now more or less sure what’s about to happen in the coming months, but do know that you’ll be greatly missed. Indeed we do have social media and Internet (as Melody diligently taught us how to use to our benefit) to follow all of your adventures, but it’s not the same as having you there on campus. Thank you both for your endless support and all the lessons. Once taught in the right way, they stick and never go away. I’m currently writing three pieces for Forbes Bulgaria and I’m using all the techniques that I learned from you in the Writing and Reporting class. I’m still blogging, too!

    Hope to see you somewhere around the world in the near future! Until then I guess Facebook, Twitter and WordPress will do the job šŸ™‚

    All the very best,

    • Awww, Tsveti,

      Thanks for the sweet note. Our paths are destined to cross again and again throughout this long life. Enjoy and keep writing!

  2. GLAD. šŸ¤˜šŸ¼ c


  3. I’ve been enjoying watching Melody develop the documentary on students.and promoting it locally in Cape May. I think the Web weaves interesting connections in to our spheres of influence. I look forward to following you both.

  4. What a tough decision, Mark. But the cool thing is that we live in an age when distance isn’t as big a boundary anymore! I suspect you’ll be mentoring your students and watching them grow for years to come.

    Best wishes to you and Melody as you embark on your NEXT great adventure!

    • Thanks, Heather! As always, appreciate you sharing the journey — even virtually! Hopefully soon we’ll manage to connect over beers in a human-to-human setting. šŸ™‚

      • That would be wonderful! I will definitely let you know next time I’m near the WindyWollemann City. šŸ™‚

  5. Hey Mark and Melody, I lock down some steadier work (freelance writing now, with possible FT editorial work on the horizon), I’m damn well definitely visiting you guys in Chicago! May even take the train! šŸ˜€

  6. I kept searching for my name in that list; it wasn’t there. I hope Chicago treats the two of you well.

    • Of course, you’re should have been in there. But you were always nicer to Melody than to me. … Maybe she’ll pay tribute.

      Come visit sometime! We’d love to see you.

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